I couldn’t let the 100th anniversary of the birth of Earle Hagen — one of the most important and most successful composers in TV history — pass without a look back at his massive impact on the medium. For this Variety story, I revisited the interviews I did when the Andy Griffith Show and Dick Van Dyke Show composer was posthumously inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011. Van Dyke, Marlo Thomas from That Girl, and Stacy Keach from Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, all talked about Hagen’s role in setting the time, place and mood of each show. Hagen’s own words; those of fellow Emmy-winning composers Mike Post and protege Bruce Babcock; and YouTube clips of his classic themes, including I Spy and The Mod Squad, are also included.
A dream project, and one long in the making: the reissue of Earle Hagen’s two I Spy LPs: the original Warner Bros. album and the second volume on Capitol. FSM producer Lukas Kendall managed to do the impossible, getting permission to put both on a single disc. I interviewed Earle often over the years, and drew on his memories of working on the series along with lots of fun research watching these terrific, lighthearted 1960s spy shows with Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. I was proud to be present, with members of Earle’s family, when he was posthumously inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011. This album contains over an hour of Hagen’s terrific, jazzy, sometimes dramatic, sometimes touching music, and I highly recommend it.
Earle Hagen, who composed the iconic themes for The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy and many other TV classics, died at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. I knew Earle well and I loved the guy. We first met when I was writing my first book, on TV themes; he allowed me to audit his BMI film-scoring class; and I consulted on the writing of his autobiography, Memoirs of a Famous Composer Nobody Ever Heard Of. Here is the obituary I wrote for Variety; here‘s a longer appreciation I created for The Film Music Society; and here is the five-hour interview we did together in 1997 for the Archive of American Television. I was glad to contribute a few quotes to the Los Angeles Times obit on Earle, too.
My first book was about TV themes, so it was a special honor for the Television Academy to invite me to participate in an evening celebrating that unique art form with some of its greatest practitioners. Earle Hagen (The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show) received a special award “for his pioneering work and enduring contributions,” and part of my job was interviewing Earle onstage, as well as longtime collaborators Mike Post and Steven Bochco about their work on shows like Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law. Vic Mizzy brought the house down with his amusing anecdotes about scoring The Addams Family and Green Acres. Here’s a story about the evening, and here’s a great BMI photo op with both Post and Hagen.
One of my favorite moments was when Robert Vaughn, introducing the spy-TV segment, was summoned to the podium by his old Man From U.N.C.L.E. pen communicator. Writer Arthur Greenwald, like me, was a great U.N.C.L.E. fan, and he supplied the prop; the audience loved the gag.
Harry Gregson-Williams received BMI’s top honor in 2006, giving me a chance to review his career and include some salient quotes from directors whose films he has immeasurably enhanced. Harry’s Venice, Calif., studio was a marvel, and it was great fun to interview him there. Harry came up through the Zimmer ranks at Media Ventures and takes his job seriously — although not too seriously. He’s always fun to talk with. Here’s a review of the ceremony itself, which also saw a major award to TV composer Earle Hagen.
The release of the misbegotten film version of I Spy served as a springboard for a piece about why filmmakers can’t seem to get big-screen versions of classic ’60s spy shows right. Detective-show historian Ric Meyers, veteran TV critic Matt Roush and pop-culture specialist Robert J. Thompson all chimed in when I called. I was irritated by the trashing of The Wild Wild West, The Avengers and Mission: Impossible — and worried about what might happen with a Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie (see Roush’s great quote at the end).
Everybody loves TV themes — from the silly Mr. Ed and The Addams Family to the intense Mission: Impossible and Peter Gunn to the atmospheric Hill Street Blues and The X-Files. But few people know how this music is made, or the stories of the men and women who have worked tirelessly (and often anonymously) to create it.
This book offers the complete story of this important musical field, giving it the serious, and colorfully anecdotal, history it deserves. Divided into chapters on each genre — from “Crime to a Beat” detailing cop and detective shows, through Westerns, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, TV Drama, Sitcoms, Action-Adventure, News and Documentaries, Cartoons, and Movies and Miniseries — Burlingame provides the real stories of the composers who worked behind the scenes to create the memorable music we all love.
Among those who have written and performed for television series are many famous musicians — like jazz pianists Dave Brubeck and Duke Ellington, arranger-producer Quincy Jones, film music giant John Williams, Broadway composer Richard Rodgers, and classical composer Morton Gould. Illustrated throughout with rare photos of the composers at work, this is a fascinating story of how a new genre of musical artistry was created.
A few reviews:
“Here’s a book that combines lengthy and impressive research, and tons of interviews, with good old-fashioned, behind-the-scenes stories…. Everyone will find something fun here… sets the record straight while providing a very enjoyable read.” — David Bianculli, New York Daily News
“Impeccably researched… crammed with musical facts, footnotes, biographical data — but also, lucky for us tune-deaf types, tons of juicy anecdotes about the making of our favorite tunes.” — Diane Werts, Newsday
“A far richer, more intelligent book… Burlingame has had one of those so-obvious-it’s-clever ideas and did a ton of research to dig up anecdotes about the theme songs and background music that are the soundtrack to a TV watcher’s life.” — Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly
“A serious, professional and comprehensive history of the songs and music that accompanied virtually every major show from Mr. Ed to The X-Files…. a required addition to any serious film or television library.” — Kathleen O’Steen, Emmy magazine
“A landmark historical overview of prime-time TV music from its beginnings to present day… comprehensive, informative and interesting.” — Lukas Kendall, Film Score Monthly
“Thoughtful and well-researched… Burlingame deserves high points for all the work involved; he spent several years tracking down the history of the medium, interviewing producers and composers.” — Billboard